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Sunday 15 June 2014

Speechie's Couch: Reading for Meaning

Some children can read aloud to perfection. Every sound in every word is in its right place, but when asked about what they were reading, a few children who have spent all their energy getting the words right, have no idea.

Other children struggle to get the words out just so, but whatever they can read aloud, they understand.

Here is the conundrum of literacy learning. Why are some children are stronger at decoding (reading accuracy) and others at understanding? Is one skill more important than the other?

The first months in the classroom focus on developing prerequisite skills that underpin reading accuracy. Children learn about sounds in isolation--the first sounds in words and words families (words that share the same letter pattern). All of these skills lead children to master reading accuracy.

Once reading accuracy is stabilised (and this can take longer for some children than others) something magical happens. Questions begin to form in young reader’s minds. They want to know more than what the written words offer. Where did Grandma hide the eggs? Who was knocking at the door? What will happen next?

This is the Holy Grail that teachers want every child to discover: the joy of interacting with the text. It is hard to reach this point if decoding words takes enormous effort. It’s always important to remember that reading comprehension is based on how easily words are decoded. You cannot understand what you cannot decode.

The best way to help children take another step up the slippery slope to reading comprehension is, as always, to enjoy sharing stories at home. And what better place to do this than at bedtime?

Jo Burnell is KBR's Development Editor and resident paediatric speech pathologist. A reviewer of children’s and YA books and shortlisting judge for Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year, Jo is familiar with effective writing for Upper Primary and Secondary students.